As the title suggests, The American Monster Burlesque & Blues Show at Harvelle's is a uniquely inspired, dirty blues cavalcade. Singer Michael Arguello plays ringleader in the show he put together two years ago and which features rotating guest musicians such as Eric Von Herzen (Social Distortion) and Jerry Angel (The Dickies). Arguello explains that show's sound evolved from the blues: "We started out doing the blues and it kind of morphed. I'll bring in a David Lynch kind of idea, or we'll do an old Link Wray song like "Rumble" and kind of screw [around with it] and turn it into something else."
Much of Arguello's inspiration for the vision behind the show comes from his love of grindhouse films. Molly D'amour and her dancers incorporate this aesthetic while reigniting the 17th century tradition of burlesque theater. D'amour reveals, "Burlesque is a classic art form that is more based on tease, clothing removal, and comedy. We mix in a lot of campy, horror, fetish, and cult film references."
Of the girls and their performance in the show, Arguello says, "[They're] well-respected in the industry, and they're very open minded to doing fun stuff…they're out there without a net, just going for it rather than sitting there doing the traditional numbers." He elaborates, "One [dancer] will put on chains, another will put on a gun, grab some blood, put on a horse head…It's pretty fun and funny, and at times it's freaky."
All of the dancers are professionals with whom D'amour has worked on other projects. She, herself, has been a professional dancer for 14 years, and although there is a lot of camp and improvisation in the shows, she only hires dancers that she feels can deliver high quality performances. She says, "I do enjoy bizarre, theatrical, and comical performances, but having proper training is always a plus for any act. All of my performers work on professional levels. I believe the bar should be the bar, and the quality of club shows should be the same as [that of] any other production."[
Given that the imagery of the American Monster Burlesque & Blues Show owes a significant debt to exploitation films, the girls involved with the show could, themselves, be thought of as being exploited. D'amour discourages this sentiment: "All of my performers are very strong women. We can handle ourselves. There is no victim mentality. That perspective is the opposite of what burlesque stands for. It's empowering. If someone in the audience is uneducated or disrespectful, that's their problem." Since burlesque performances involve sexually suggestive routines performed in varying states of undress, conscientious observers might inquire about the safety of the performers. To this, D'amour assures, "The club and staff back us on this, are very aware, and handle any issues. Problems are rare; however, if someone crosses the line and gets grabby, they politely get a well-placed stiletto to the foot!"
Although the burlesque dancers may provide the principal eye candy, the show's website proclaims vaudevillian acts are included in the show. Arguello confirms, "We've had different acts come up there and rotate in. We've got fire-eaters, all kinds of stuff. Sword swallowers have come in there, contortionists…it's just kind of a mish mash."
It is easy to imagine a cult appeal for this type of performance, but apparently the crowd that the show draws is just as diverse as the acts. Arguello says, "It really is a wide array. We've got the hipsters, we started off having a bunch like the rockabilly types, and now it's all kinds of people. And it seems like 90% of them enjoy it. We always get a few people that it's not their bag, or they're like, 'What the heck's going on with that?' [Regardless,] ever since the first show, we got a really great response. Every show we do is packed."
For information on purchasing advance tickets for the next two American Monster Burlesque & Blues Show performances, on March 29 and April 26, visit the Harvelle's website.